Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Knitter

The clicking of her knitting and the soft purrs from the cat beside her raised the room from silence. Even the fire, to which she had added her last peat, was smoking soundlessly. Outside the wind had dropped from the savage storm of the afternoon as if, too, was readying itself for bed.

Her fingers moved themselves along invisible paths in the air, paths they knew so well from years of treading, paths that turned the soft spun fibres into warm, patterned, stockings for others feet to wear when treading much more solid paths.

She had no need for light, save that from the fire, for the moon was full and beaming through the small window at the knitter and her gently breathing cat. Her eyes, no longer as sharp and piercing as in her youth, were not needed for her work so she allowed them to rest and as they did so her mind, which retained those very same qualities that time had drained from her sight, drifted back through the years...

Her father's voice, as he tended to the nets beside his boat, warning her too late of the wave that bravely ventured further up the shore than its fellows, washing the sand from her feet and wetting the hem of her dress with its cold, salty waters. As the wave slunk back to the sea, it dragged a strand of seaware across her toes and she squealed as the thin fibres tickled at her feet. A laugh from her mother, who was further up the beach, carrying the swathed bundle of her baby brother was joined by one from her father and she, embarrassed by the silliness of a moment before, joined her parents mirth...

The needles clicked on.

The young woman was the first to see the postie approaching. They never got mail, it being of little use to her parents and she not having yet met the friends whose travels would render letters necessary. The man saw her but did not wave, confirming her fears as if any confirmation was required. She ran towards the house, reaching the door just after the man had been greeted by her parents, her father slumping, her mother preparing a tear, and all this before the man had passed the piece of paper to them. All four went inside, her father taking the letter from the postie and a penknife from his pocket, she holding her mother's hand as tightly as on the day they had waved her brother off, the brother that the letter, which the postie was now reading, confirmed she would never see again...

The needles clicked on.

There were children round her feet, a seemingly endless thicket of nieces and nephews, the fruits of her two much older sisters marriages. She had never asked her parents why there was this gap between the first two girls being born and her own arrival, the five fallow years being those of famine when many a child had perished, some at birth, some due to their mother's dessication and others through disease and malnutrition. It was something to be borne but not discussed.

The children, for whom being gathered together in one place was a novelty, were excited but respectful. The coffin on the table in the neighbouring room told the story of this rare communion. Her father had died some years earlier, taken by the sea and kept in its unforgiving grip, and now her mother lay next door, her body finally succumbing to the gnawing from within that the knitter had nursed her through for several years. Her mother had blamed herself for her youngest daughter's spinsterhood but, in truth, the lack of young men since the war and the effect upon her mother of losing her only boy-child in that hateful conflict had turned her away from bearing children.

She had always enjoyed her work and, as she was one of the best-known knitters on the island (her work had even won medals at exhibitions on the mainland), she could provide not only for herself but also for her widowed mother. They had been joined for a while by one of her nieces, partly to help her sister who had recently added another little boy to her family and partly to give the girl training. In fact she had proved a diligent pupil and almost as skilled as her ageing aunt and this, together with her liveliness and loveliness, had meant that she was soon someone's wife and moved away.
Her mind found the memory of the funeral, the boat journey, the climb across the island and the interment in the ancient burial ground, too traumatic too bear, so it kindly spared her the agony...

The needles clicked on.

The moon had climbed through the night, moving its beams away from the knitter and her cat and exploring further round the room. The peat that had fuelled her memories now lay char-glowed in the grate. The light had dimmed, the warmth of the room had grown, and the bone-like fingers of the knitter had slowed.
The needles fell silent, slipping from the fingers which then gently followed them onto the her lap.
A strand of wool lay across the knitter's hands, as a strand of seaware had once been lapped across a child's feet by a wave of long ago...

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